March 11, 2023

About 1,000 migrants rescued to Italian ports from Mediterranean Sea

About 1,000 migrants rescued to Italian ports from Mediterranean Sea

This photograph taken on March 9, 2023, shows flowers and crosses set as a memorial on a beach near Cutro, where at least 72 migrants died on February 26, after their boat sank off Italy’s southern Calabria region. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

About 1,000 migrants were brought to safety at two Italian ports Saturday after the overcrowded boats they were on encountered problems in the Mediterranean, news reports said.

The rescues came the same day as a body was discovered of the 74th victim of the deadly shipwreck nearly two weeks ago — that of a female child between five and six years of age, according to news agency AGI.

The February 26 shipwreck, which occurred just off the shore of Calabria, has drawn sharp criticism of the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for its failure to intervene timely to save the boat.

The coastguard, which did not respond to requests for more information, signalled on Friday a large rescue operation under way after three boats were spotted drifting off Italy’s coasts. One was south of the Calabrian city of Crotone and two further south off Roccella Ionica.

Coastguard videos published late Friday showed a large fishing boat pitching back and forth in rough seas with dozens of people visible on the deck and a tugboat seen towing the boat.

Those 487 migrants onboard were safely brought to the port of Crotone early Saturday morning, according to various new reports.

Separately, a coastguard ship carrying 584 migrants docked Saturday morning at Reggio Calabria, after those onboard were rescued in various interventions, news agency ANSA reported.

It was not immediately clear the status of the third boat identified by the coastguard Friday.

The recent shipwreck has put the government on the defensive. On Thursday, Meloni held a cabinet meeting at Cutro, near the disaster site, and announced a new decree that included stiffer prison sentences for human traffickers, but no new measures to help save lives.

Her far-right Brothers of Italy party, which won elections last year, had promised to curb arrivals, but Italy has recently seen a sharp rise in the number of migrants attempting to reach its shores via the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

The interior ministry says more than 17,500 people have arrived by sea so far this year — almost three times the number for the same period last year.